ANGRY AMERICANS /THE SHAME OF THE SAME MOUTHS (Guest Post by Don Clark)
(I have explicit permission from Don Clark to post this essay to my blog. It first appeared—so far as I know—on another blog. Someone forwarded it to me and it caught my attention because of the mention of Mark Hatfield—one of my evangelical heroes. I often ask myself “Where have the Mark Hatfields gone?” But Hatfield was not alone; there was a time when many, many American evangelical leaders were much more moderate, generous, even progressive in their political and theological views. I like this essay because it is a much needed call for civility in contemporary American discourse, something that seems lacking. Too many people are so angry at anyone who does not listen to and agree with their favorite radio talk show host or commentator or politician that they break off old friendships and even relationships with close loved ones. I read the letters to the editor in my local newspaper (and sometimes write ones myself) and many of them are simply vitriolic diatribes against people they simply disagree with. The level of anger over political, ethical and religious disagreements seems unparalleled in my lifetime. And the mass media seems to thrive on it and encourage it. Christians, at least, ought to tone it down. I don’t post guest essays here because I agree with everything in them. I post them because I find something helpful in them and want other people to at least stop and consider what they say. I do not know Don Clark personally; I’m not posting his essay here because I know him. I’m only posting it here—with his permission—because I find what he says very timely and worthy of serious consideration.)
Here begins Don Clark’s essay:
One of my political heroes was Mark Hatfield of Oregon. He began his career as a professor of political science at Willamette University in Salem. The scenic campus was across the street from Oregon’s white marble Capitol building.
Mark was handsome. He was brilliant. He was Oregon’s most eligible bachelor.
In those academic years, Mark became a committed follower of Jesus, thanks to the winsome witness of one of his students, Doug Coe. The two of them became life-long colleagues in advancing the work of God’s Kingdom in America’s political circles.
Mark first won a seat in the Oregon legislature. He was next elected Secretary of State. He was then elected Oregon’s governor, serving two terms. Finally, Oregonians gave Mark the highest office in their power to bestow. They voted him United States Senator.
He served in that high office six terms. His integrity in office earned him the title, “The Conscience of the Senate.” In the famous video and photo of Ronald Reagan being sworn into office on the Capitol steps, you see Mark’s handsome face directly behind the new president. They were good friends.
At every stage of his career, Mark was one of the most outspoken witnesses for Jesus Christ of anyone in American public life. Without apology or embarrassment, he boldly lifted up Jesus as his own savior and lord and as the rightful ruler of all men and nations.
It was Mark Hatfield who held the nation’s first “Governor’s Prayer Breakfast,” an event now emulated in every state in the nation.
However, even though Mark was a bold witness for Christ, his political stands in Washington, D.C., often clashed with the views of conservative evangelicals back home He was a total foe of the Vietnam War, for example, and he was a strong champion of nuclear disarmament.
Whenever Mark’s votes on the Senate floor went against the prevailing sentiment of voters back home, his office would be flooded with outraged phone calls from people pointedly identifying themselves as “Christians.” They would bitterly curse him and savagely condemn him “in Christ’s name.” They would deny his Christianity. They would deride his integrity. They would mock his intelligence. They would lambast him with slurs and slanders too ugly to mention.
The language they used was so vile and so vicious that his staff could only stay on the phone a little bit at a time before trading off. That’s all the verbal abuse any of them could endure at one time.
Mark Hatfield is gone now. But the same abusive language and the same hateful attitudes go on today undiminished among so-called Christians—pouring out anger against leaders we don’t like, spewing out vitriol against policies we don’t endorse, lashing out with foul language against people with whom we disagree or with those of whom disapprove.Shame on us!
Scripture is absolutely brutal on this matter.
Of abusive speech, Jesus says, “Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court. Whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for- nothing’ shall be guilty before the Supreme Court. And whoever says ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fires of hell.”
The apostle Paul warned the early Christians against all forms of “strife, jealously, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances.’
Paul wrote: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that your words will give grace to those who hear. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you.”
In listing “the works of the flesh,” Paul includes anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech,” which he calls “evil practices.” Instead, Paul calls men “to lift up holy hands in prayer, without wrath or dissension.”
Paul says Christians “must not be quarrelsome, but kind to all, able to teach, patiently when wronged, correcting with gentleness those who are in opposition.”
The apostle James is bluntest of all toward so-called Christian who use abusive language: “If anyone thinks himself to be religious yet does not bridle his tongue, he deceives his own heart and his religion is worthless.”
HIS RELIGION IS WORTHLESS!
James says our tongues can easily be “a restless evil full of deadly poison. As the supreme example of such evil, James says, “With our tongue we bless God and with it we curse men created in the image of God. All out of the same mouth. This must not be.”
James says the mark of men who are acting in God’s wisdom is “purity, gentleness, reasonableness, peaceable, unwavering, full of good fruits, sincere, without hypocrisy, whose words are sown in peace to make peace.”
Who gets to live with God? The Psalms say, “The man who does not slander with his tongue.”
Who deserves long life from God? “The man who keeps his tongue from evil… The man who ceases from anger and forsakes wrath.”
King David said: “I will guard my ways that I might not sin with my tongue.”
The proverbs of Solomon say, “He who spreads slander is a fool. The one who speaks rashly is like a man slashing a sword, wounding many. He who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. An angry man stirs up strife. A hot-tempered man abounds in transgression. A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor.”
Sadly, many of us today are addicted to anger, hooked on hate, and overdosing on outrage. It’s an addiction we eagerly feed every day. Many in today’s media, on both sides, make their well-paid livings and advance their high-profile careers by deliberately stirring up that anger, feeding that hate, and fueling that outrage, with abusive language flying from all sides.
It’s the tactic of all demigods: “If I can make you angry at what I want you to be angry about and at the person I want you to be angry with, I’ve got you. If I can make you hate what I want you to hate, you’re mine.”
In the midst of this demonic, divisive, destructive atmosphere, what kind of Christians will we be? What kind of language will we use? What kind of example will we set?